North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne emphasized the importance of fixing a system that pays farmers and ranchers less for increased trade during his president’s report at the 94th annual state convention.
The convention — held virtually via Zoom on Friday, Dec. 11, at the NDFU Conference Center in Jamestown — featured a short program lasting less than five hours. Watne delivered his remarks before lunch, zeroing in on policy, the farm bill and trade.
Watne shared numbers from the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, which showed the U.S. market share of key commodities dropping significantly in the past 40 years.
“Remember when trade was the answer? But to get that trade, we’re going to price (commodities) low,” said Watne, recalling what farmers were told.
The U.S. exported over 81 percent of the world’s corn on average between 1976 and 1978, but that number dropped to 35.3 percent in the three-year average between 2016 to 2018. Soybeans have fallen from 64.4 percent to 26.2 percent, while wheat has dropped from 43.8 percent to 14.6 percent during the same timeframe.
“Had we maintained our respective share of world trade, we would have had to plant 114 million more acres of those crops just to meet the goal,” Watne said. “It didn’t work out that way, and it’s not going to work out that way into the future. Those realities have to alter American farm policy that suggests lowering the U.S. price will increase or maintain U.S. market share. Many ag economists and politicians continue to repeat the mythical claim that lower crop prices will increase the share of trade for U.S. corn, soybeans and wheat.
“As farmers and ranchers, we learn from our past and improve based on the knowledge we gain. It’s time for politicians and economists and those who run our country to step up and address these inequities.”
Watne also addressed climate change and the need for a carbon credit program to compensate farmers and ranchers for carbon storage.
“We want (the program) to be the carrot,” he said. “We really want to be part of the solution, so we need to be at the table.”
With antitrust issues continuing to plague the livestock industry, Watne said processing in North Dakota needs to be encouraged. He added the ball is already rolling on in-state processing facilities.
“I’m well aware of potentially 11 localized processing facilities going into the state,” he said. “(NDFU also has) some work being done on livestock processing. … It’s really key that we come together, because we don’t want to see 11 startups and 11 closures. We need to work on (enforcing antitrust laws), so big packers can’t just run these folks over. And we need help finding markets. If we’re going to slaughter that many cattle in North Dakota, we’ve got to have a place to sell it.”
Watne said consolidation in agribusiness in general is a bigger problem that needs to be dealt with, noting that many of the antitrust laws needed are actually already in place.
“We simply overlook them and allow it to happen,” he said. “Every time you let another major merger happen, it further restricts the ability of the open market to truly represent what the value of our commodities are.”
With election season coming to a close, Watne said NDFU continues to fight for farmers and ranchers.
“It’s our duty to work with those elected to achieve the goals in the best interest of the country,” Watne said. “Farmers Union will work to influence the administration to meet the policies set forth in the interest of agriculture and family farms.”
— Chris Aarhus, NDFU